Years ago I entered a doctoral program still relatively green, so to speak. However, I carried with me a healthy dose of criticism, although it mingled effortlessly with elements of naivete that somehow I had managed to hold on to in spite of my previous years of formal education. Perhaps I never questioned how those two elements worked so well together because together they formulated for me a way to question things without any commitment to answers: I deluded myself for psychological protection purposes, I think.
At any rate, I have a problem with commitment, but not in the typical way that commitment issues tend to be discussed. My husband and I have been married for 25 years, having dated for five years before marrying, so I am capable of commitment. I believe that my specific lack of commitment issue has much to do with the way that I was raised. As a young child I was allowed to question everything, mostly because my father prized individual thinking, however deluded the notion. Nevertheless, I believed I had the inalienable right to think for myself, even when in the presence of adults. I was not allowed to be disrespectful, but I was allowed to form a counter argument and present it, after which the strong and weak points of it were identified for me to ponder over later. My arguments did not change outcomes necessarily, but they were heard and acknowledged.
Here’s a delusional position: I am annoyed by contradiction, especially when someone is trying to lead me, but I am aware that I am a total contradiction in thought and action. And here is the answer I have come up with (until something better comes along that I can hold in my mind) as a good reason to ascribe to my inconsistent thoughts: at the root everything is a contradiction.
In the diversity program, I came to realize that I was involved in only another configuration of an “us versus them” category. Us, who were believed to be the open minded, caring, and tolerant people versus them, who were believed to be the narrow minded, bigoted, hateful people were regular sources of conversation when discussing diversity; I could not stand it! At one point, I stood up in class, announced that I was leaving and would not be returning, and I told the whole class that it was the hate for less informed people that surfaced in our discussions and was illustrated by our attitudes and political arguments that was the reason behind my decision. I added before gathering my things that I did not apply to the program to involve myself in another version of hate.
My professor was shocked, but she told me she respected my decision. Then she followed me to the door and told me that I needed to talk to someone because average people don’t suffer from such scruples; something was wrong with my head if I was that bothered by the issue. I’m not average, I thought to myself, and you berated me for a having a materialistic bent, according to you, because I drive a new car, while you maintain two separate homes, a bit elitist in its own right. However, out of respect for her as my teacher, none of those thoughts came out of my mouth.
I knew that I was through with her talking out of two sides of her mouth, so to speak, and critiquing every little thing that I did, while she did some other version of the same general thing as if her crap did not stink. Her crap smelled to high heaven from where I was standing, and in my mind I was calling bullshit on the whole thing.
A few days later, after much convincing from others, I bowed before her and requested to return to finish my degree in spite of my feelings. I finished it because I wanted to do a certain kind of work for my community and that degree would give me access to the bigger goal, at least that was what convinced me to return; just suffer through it. However, every time I was confronted with that same type of nonsense while in a classroom, I cringed at the thought of my illicit involvement.
This is my pattern in life. I question in my head, then when I can’t resolve the thing, I question aloud, and then break the tie because I cannot buy, follow, swallow, shove to the side (whatever) the talking out of two sides of the mouth bull crap that I am expected not to notice.
That does not mean that I think all things are equal; I don’t. Oppression does exist, and it should be examined and corrected, in my view, because that is the moral thing to do. To help others live the highest quality of life possible is the moral path, in my view. However, working toward a more equitable reality for people should not require me to become an oppressor or tolerate attempts to oppress. The “us versus them” mindset never works in any meaningful way; it simply creates something further to argue about that leads us to a root that has firmly established itself in contradiction of one sort or another.
To remove myself from the system is impossible; it’s a system after all. The system was in place before I arrived, and it will continue whether I actively participate or not. A moratorium is not a political stance; it’s a cop out, folks. In fact, Paulo Freire posits that to refuse to take a stand is to side with the oppressor.
I’m sorry, but refusing to vote because it is a paternalistic male cultured driven competition does not change the fact that someone will govern and someone will not. In order to make incremental (an trust me I realize that they are incremental) changes toward a more people-oriented society, we have to be willing to contradict ourselves and vote, otherwise, our non-protest is a vote for a more ugly, less people-oriented immediate reality.
I am here now. I am a part of this canvas we call life, and today I must do what I can for those who are under-served or disadvantaged by our current system. And if that means that I must live with participating in a system that I do not like or believe in, I must live with that contradiction on behalf of my brothers and sisters who need more help than I do at the moment.
Someone once said to me something along the lines of “Why should we talk about marginalized groups; we are all suffering?” This is true. Every person suffers as a result of human existence, but some people face system imposed additional suffering that is simply not experienced by everyone. In fact, some of us are the beneficiaries of these socially constructed categories, because an intention to serve some while punishing others was the original goal, and that goal persists today.
I accept that I am a contradiction, and I can allow my brain to hold two competing thoughts at once because I believe that sometimes my willingness two hold these competing thoughts about myself in a effort to help touch the greater good is a sign that I can become fully human one day.
Just a thought.